For weeks we've been snooping Rockford Cocktail Den on my neighborhood walks along 23rd Street in Uptown. From the outside peering in, the old Grandad's space has been transformed by vintage furniture, Edison bulbs, retro wallpaper, a panther logo, and an iconic "R" hanging above the front and back door. We've watched the progress from the outside for weeks now and was so excited when owner and operator Anna Mains invited me to pop by for a cocktail (after we begged her).
Let's get to the stuff you want to know about Rockford Cocktail Den: the atmosphere is great, the drinks are the real deal, and yes, there are boobies on the wall.
The team at Rockford have scoured the midwest for the funkiest 70's furniture you can dream of. The furniture is arranged into "living rooms" to encourage small groups to mingle into larger groups, except for a giant doublewide chaise lounge (which technically still works as a mingle space). While Rockford is pushing the theming all the way to ten, it still works as a regular place to get a drink on the weekdays.
"Our biggest push at Rockford is hospitality" said Anna, while showing off her favorite element of the space: custom-made wallpaper developed by Robot House Creative. The staff hopes guests will try their signature cocktails, but no one at Rockford will scoff or hassle you if you just want a beer or a Vodka Red Bull. Rockford will always offer a shot and a beer for $5, making it a great destination bar and neighborhood bar for the Uptown 23 District.
“Our biggest push at Rockford is hospitality.”
— ANNA MAINS
Try all the classics your dad grew up on at Rockford: Harvey Wallbanger, Cuba Libre, Tequila Sunrise, and Piña Colada to name a few. Rockford has worked hard to develop recipes for these classic cocktails using fresh-squeezed juices, house-made ginger beer, and local brands like Winship's Old Fashioned Bitters and Prairie Wolf Vodka. And it works. Really well. I'd recommend the Kinky Pinky which is made with Jim Beam Rye Whiskey, Bols Genever, House Grenadine, and Peychaud's Bitters floated on top of an egg white foam. After that you can pretty much try anything because your night is off to a great start with a stiff drink that doesn't taste at all like a stiff drink. They have bar snacks too like Charcuterie, Housemade "Cheez Whiz" served with Bugles, and a House Pickle Plate.
We hesitate making this its own section because the nudity at Rockford feels natural to the era and is a modern wink back to the sexist ads of the 1970s. It's tongue and cheek and something that's supposed to be playful, like the life size print of Burt Reynolds' sexy, nude centerfold from Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1972 (even his eyes are hairy).
"We're celebrating the female body, not exploiting it" said Anna of their original models posed in 70's style shots on the flat screens. There are vintage Playboys adorning the walls of the restrooms as well, but that's as far as it goes. The servers are expected to dress normally and expect to be treated like professionals in the modern era, not extras in a Ron Burgundy movie.
Rockford Cocktail Den offers a free limo ride to and from, within a five mile radius. We've seen it: it's real, and it's spectacular. They're also open seven days a week from 4 pm to 2 am, Monday through Friday, and 2 pm to 2 am on Saturday and Sunday. There's no cover at Rockford, but expect door staff keeping the party classy and friendly.